Wizard World Chicago: Bendis vs. Johns

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For the first time in the history of Wizard World Chicago, creators from both DC and Marvel Comics shared panel space and traded opinions on the comics industry. Ostensibly, the panel had been invented as a discussion between the two most prolific writers of the major publishers—Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns. After a mock wrestling match (which the writers joked was the first thing they had scripted together), Bendis and Johns decided to "hijack [their] own panel" and invited a number of special guests up to the stage such as Gail Simone, David Finch, Ethan Van Sciver, C.B. Cebulski, Brian Reed, and others.

From the start, it was stressed by both lead writers that, title aside, this was not a Marvel vs. DC grudge match. The point was not which universe or publisher was better, as creators on both sides remain close and admire each others’ work. The intention was a frank and open discussion about what we all love or hate about comics. Many fans got up to the mike to ask a question.

Is lateness a problem for the comics industry today? And if so, what can be done?

All present agreed that late books were indeed becoming a problem. Johns mentioned that DC is very sensitive to this issue, as lateness can seem unprofessional or lead to sales drops. One solution offered by Bendis was that comics simply should not be solicited until they are done, though he acknowledged that there are corporate factors which work against this.

Will DC and Marvel continue to produce inter-company crossovers? Now that the Multiverse has returned, might the Marvel Universe be one of the 52?

This latter suggestion received boos from the crowd. All agreed that Marvel should not be shoehorned into being just an alternate world in the DC cosmos.

What are the pros and cons of working within the Multiverse concept?

The panelists compared the publishers’ differing approaches to the idea of a Multiverse and parallel worlds. Marvel’s infinite Multiverse is more all inclusive but can be overwhelming. DC’s current 52 Earths are more contained but potentially limiting. DC has more of an epic cross-universal scope, while Marvel generally keeps their different continuities separate. Bendis compared the Marvel approach to books vs. film adaptations—Different takes on the same concept, not something that one would expect to intertwine.

What was the panel’s reaction to Shadowcat ranking higher than Wonder Woman (the archetypal heroine) on Wizard’s Top 200 Characters?

Bendis was elated by this ranking. "Jews rule!" he quipped. Current Wonder Woman scribe Gail Simone was less enthusiastic. "That’s crazy. There would be none of these other female characters without Wonder Woman."

For those under contract to DC or Marvel, what is your favorite thing about the other company?

Johns mentioned that he likes how the Marvel heroes are generally more grounded and cited his love for some of Marvel’s "bad-asses" like the Punisher or the Hulk. Simone expressed her love for the X-Men metaphor of outcasts seeking to belong as well as the relatable nature of Spider-Man. Brian Reed was envious of how anything can happen in a DC book, such as Wonder Woman coming home to find gorilla warriors in her apartment. He did not think this would fly in the slightly more realistic Marvel world. Also valuing DC’s imagination and surreality, David Finch mentioned that he would love to be able to draw Gotham City rather than New York, as less photo reference is needed. Several panelists referred to the generational legacy aspect of the DCU and the iconic godlike feel of the characters.

Bendis simply stated that he identified with Lex Luthor (leading the audience’s eyes to his baldness).

What book would you like to do at the other company?

Simone: Spider-Man.

Johns: Hulk.

Reed: Batman.

Van Sciver: Ghost Rider.

Finch: Batman.

Bendis: Plastic Man, a gritty Vertigo version with Alex Maleev.

What do you like/dislike about the current DC/Marvel film adaptations?

Simone was impressed by the diversity and growing size of the audience for this summer’s comic book movies. "It’s kinda cool to like comics now," she said. While it may not translate into comics sales, these movies are improving and building the rep of the comics industry. Van Sciver said he and his son are loving the crossovers between the Marvel films. These characters now have a life outside the comics page, like the great mythic heroes of old. When the limited number of DC movies was mentioned, Reed responded that DC has several layers between themselves and their parent company Warner Bros., whereas Marvel now has their own movie studio. Johns hinted that in the next five years, we may see the DC movie output improve.

What do you think about the accessibility (or lack thereof) of complex crossover stories like Final Crisis?

Bendis said that he firmly believes "not everything has to be spoonfed." And that in fact, often something that seems bewildering at first could turn out to be the best comic you’ve read all year.

Do fans continuing to buy a series out of habit, even if they hate it, ultimately hurt the industry?

Bendis (speaking from experience after the fan outcry towards New Avengers) said that a fan once told him that this mentality was like being a sports fan who sticks with a team through good and bad. He also said "I appreciate anyone who reads anything for any reason" and mentioned that few people in today’s society are readers in general. Comics fans, even when sticking with a book they may not be enjoying as much, are still more discerning and intelligent in their reading than many members of the mainstream public.

Artists being replaced on a series can often seem like an actor on a t.v. series being replaced. Do writers become attached to a particular artist or have a different relationship with certain artists?

Simone joked that this was the reason she was sitting between Johns and Van Sciver. "Someone has to separate these two!" Bendis likened a good writer/artist partnership to dating. He went on to say that after working with Olivier Coipel, it felt odd to see him working with J. Michael Straczynski on Thor. "Oh look," he said at the time, "JMS is @#$%ing my girlfriend."

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Overall, the first collaborative DC/Marvel panel turned out to be a fun experience for both the fans and creators alike.

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